Robot 6

The Middle Ground #51 | Out Of Sight

Indie comics need better press.

This isn’t to say that PR people for some indie publishers aren’t doing spectacular jobs; Fantagraphics, Oni Press and IDW have some of the best publicity people in the industry, and I’ve heard that from enough people that I know it’s not just my own personal biases leaking out (Although I will readily admit that I love the folk in charge of publicity/press for each of those publishers). But what I mean is, there are still far too many people out there for whom “comics” means Marvel and DC, and that’s it, despite the fact that they should really know better. Take, for example, the recent Prism Awards.

DC has understandably tried to make publicity hay out of the fact that Rise of Arsenal and Greek Street won the Best Comic Book award in this year’s awards, splitting the vote equally for the portrayal of drug addiction (Arsenal) and mental illness (Greek Street) – It’s better than talking about Superman renouncing citizenship in a back-up story no-one gave a second thought to at the time, after all – and the internet has also, understandably, made outrage hay out of the much-derided Rise of Arsenal winning any kind of award, never mind one for its treatment of drug addiction. But, looking at the nominee list is a really depressing thing. Yes, Rise of Arsenal was terrible, but was it really that much worse than the treatment of mental illness in Siege and Dark Avengers, or in Hawkeye and Mockingbird (where, unless I’m misremembering, the mental illness was actually being possessed by the ghost of a dead relative)?

Okay, true, Hawkeye and Mockingbird was a much better comic than Rise of Arsenal. But nonetheless; every single comic nominated in the Prism Awards category for best comic came from Marvel or DC. The Prism Awards were created to recognize “the accurate depiction of substance abuse and mental illness,” and apparently the best comics of 2010 to accurately depict those issues are all superhero or supernatural books from only two publishers…? Somehow, I find it hard to believe that, especially when other publishers – the ones mentioned at the start of the piece, or Top Shelf or First Second or many others are much more likely to offer “accurate depiction”s of any everyday circumstance than either Marvel or DC.

The only realistic reason I can think of for Marvel and DC’s dominance in the Prism Awards – or in the mainstream press, for that matter, where Spider-Man’s “death” and replacement by another guy with the same powers can garner column inches that don’t just outright express disdain for repetition – is ignorance over what else is out there: What’s more interesting, more appropriate, just plain more entertaining, oftentimes. It’s not just that the people who make these decisions prefer Marvel or DC, there’s got to be something more… Like the idea that they just don’t know that there’s a real alternative.

Like I said, indie comics need better press. But until they get it, I guess it’ll fall to the press we’ve got to start learning about what’s available, and looking beyond what reminds them of what they read when they were kids.



At the risk of becoming a relentless plugging machine, I feel it’s worth mentioning that the results from Hey, Women! Comics!’s recent comics non-reading women survey backs up this impression with numbers (as far from a Pew-worthy sample size as it may be.)

Respondents overwhelmingly associated superheroes with comic books, and even strongly associated the genre with the other, usually less superhero-y formats I asked about. A surprising (to me) proportion of respondents had never even /heard/ of the graphic novel format. I even got responses – despite going to /extreme/ lengths to make it clear that the survey’s definition of “comics” was not exclusively Big Two – from a couple of mainly-manga/webcomic readers who seemed to assume I was only talking about superheroes.

As said, most non-DC/Marvel publishers are doing a fine job of promoting their titles with budgets that are probably stretched thinner than I can even imagine. But sometimes I wonder what else could be done to help spread the message of “yeah, there are some great superhero stories, but look at all the other cool things comics can do as well!”

Alas, HWC alone doesn’t seem like the magic pill to cure these woes. :>

Thank you! You’ve done an excellent job of explaining why this award is ridiculous. You’re right: It’s not just the fact that Rise of Arsenal was awful. It’s that it was picked OVER EVERYTHING ELSE as the best depiction of substance abuse in comics. And while I don’t even think it’s true if you limit yourself to the big two, there’s no way in hell that it can be true if you consider all comics.

I know that with GLAAD, one of their concerns is exposure. They’re looking not just for good representation of LGBTQ characters, but ones that got a lot of mainstream exposure, too. So maybe the Prism Awards are going for the same thing by picking the most mainstream comics.

But how mainstream are super-hero comics to begin with? Seriously.

At Bleeding Cool, there’s a quote from some spokesperson for the Prism Awards where they say they’re aware of the poor reception Rise of Arsenal got and that “obviously their criteria are different.” (Quoted from memory.) Which, really if you think about it, pretty much means they’re not concerned with quality. And that’s a real shame. What’s the point of an award if you’re only going to look at one aspect and disregard the quality of the work completely?

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